Building a Dharma Ecohouse
Article by Jill Bird
Around seven years ago I bought an ordinary Victorian terraced house with a view to refurbishing it as an ecohouse. The main way I achieved this was through increasing the insulation which is generally the top priority for any refurbishment. This was challenging as, unlike later houses which have cavity walling, earlier houses are built with only one brick walls. This means that the insulation boards have to bonded to the walls, either on the outside or inside of the house. However, the walls need only to by insulated on the front and back walls as the houses each side act as natural insulation. Obviously, the loft needs to be insulated and, ideally, the lowest floor of the house as well. In effect, the ‘cube’ of the house is wrapped in a big duvet!
I have also had some woodburning stoves fitted which are part of a sealed and insulated system. My hot water system can be fitted with solar panels so that they work in tandem but I cannot afford them yet. These all help to improve the energy efficiency but are still not as important as insulation. A few years ago I took part in the ‘Green Doors’ ecohouse trail across the city of Bristol where ordinary people threw open their doors to the public for viewing and discussion. To do this I had to inspected by an energy efficiency surveyor. He took about two hours to poke about my house but he did declare a massive improvement from the ‘red zone’ to the ‘green zone’.
There are lots of other alternatives to retrofitting existing housing but we are not going to demolish the bulk of British housing stock so dealing with the complications of old houses and energy efficiency seems important. Also, you do not have to buy your own house to be green. Landlords can apply for grants and just buying your electricity from ‘Good Energy’ (100% renewables) will make a massive difference.
I got interested in environmental issues some while ago and went back to art college with a view to producing artworks exploring challenges and solutions. After the end of a rather wobbly love affair while I was studying, I felt it was about time I finally got my meditation practice permanently established. This, combined with study around alternatives to Unlimited Growth Capitalism, made me start to realise the healing, rebalancing power of the Dharma. For me, retrofitting my new house and deepening my practice go hand in hand. Also, this was part of a gradual process of ‘greening’ my life which is still going on. It felt important to start with my own life before tackling the wider world of environmental change.
That’s the good news but I did make some serious mistakes, mainly by not asking enough questions before I started. I also feel I chose the wrong person to suggest and manage achievable building changes. However, the builder was great and very open to new techniques (he coped with old fashioned lime mortar surprisingly well.)
So I would love to offer the chance to others to contact me to exchange ideas, talk things through, ask any questions or just to chat about the joining of Dharma and eco-action. I am not brilliant at email so it is best to ring me.
Jill Bird: firstname.lastname@example.org // 0117 9551360
Since writing this article Jill has discovered that Ecotricity is also 100% renewable AND is investing in new wind farms as well as the very exciting field of gas production from anaerobic digestion.